HONOLULU — Former Rep. Colleen Hanabusa is seeking a return to elected office by running for mayor of Honolulu.

Introduced by City Councilmember Ann Kobayashi, Hanabusa formally declared her candidacy in February at her campaign headquarters in Kalihi.

Former Rep. Colleen Hanabusa

A statement on her campaign website reads, in part: “Colleen is committed to working together to address some of our island community’s most pressing issues: cost containment and accountability for the rail project, finding the right housing options and solutions to help our homeless individuals and families, and ensuring that we care for our young and elderly while investing in a thriving and dynamic economy for our young people.

“During these challenging times, it’s time for an experienced leader. Colleen is a leader for these times – she is rooted in Hawaii with a vision for the future.”   

Hanabusa’s endorsers include the Hawaii State Teachers Association and Laborers’ International Union of North America, Local 368.

Other candidates for mayor include City Councilmember Kymberly Pine, Honolulu businessman Keith Amemiya, former general manager of Hawaii News Now Rick Blangiardi, real estate agent and community activist Choon James, and former Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who entered the race last month. 

The current mayor, Kirk Caldwell, is ineligible to run for a third term due to term limits.

The primary, which will be conducted by mail, is set for Aug. 8. The general election is on Nov. 3.

Hanabusa, 69, served as a member of the U.S. House of Representative from Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District (urban Oahu) from 2011 to 2015 and again from 2016 to 2019.

In 2003, Hanabusa ran to succeed the late Patsy Takemoto Mink as representative of Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, losing to fellow Democrat Ed Case. In 2006, after Case gave up the seat to unsuccessfully challenge Sen. Daniel Akaka in the Democratic primary, Hanabusa ran again, losing to former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono.

After the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye in December 2012, it was announced that he had sent a letter to Gov. Neil Abercrombie, stating his desire that Hanabusa be appointed to the vacant Senate seat. Abercrombie instead selected Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz. Hanabusa unsuccessfully challenged Schatz in the Democratic primary in 2014.

After the death of Rep. Mark Takai in July 2016, Hanabusa announced her candidacy in the 1st Congressional District special election. She won the Democratic primary in August and the general election in November.

In 2017, Hanabusa announced her decision to run for governor rather than seek re-election to the House. In 2018, she lost to incumbent and fellow Democrat David Ige, who was elected to a second term.

A fourth-generation Japanese American, Hanabusa grew up in Waianae, where her parents owned a gas station. Her maternal grandfather was held at the Honouliuli Internment Camp on Oahu during World War II.

She received a B.A. in sociology and economics in 1973 and an M.A. in sociology in 1975 from the University of Hawaii and her law degree in 1977 from UH’s William S. Richardson School of Law. A labor lawyer with almost 30 years of experience, she was a delegate to the Hawaii State Judicial Conference and was named by Honolulu Magazine as one of Hawaii’s “A+ Attorneys.”

“Colleen started a legal career advocating for working families and developing expertise in the areas of labor law and the environment,” according to the biography on the campaign website. “Despite being often mistaken as a court stenographer at a time when there were few women attorneys. Colleen developed a reputation as a relentless advocate for families and their communities. With her work ethic and dedication, Colleen distinguished herself as someone you can count on.

“Colleen has always been committed to serving our community, which ultimately led her to public service. She was elected to the Hawaii State Senate in 1998 and quickly proved herself as a collaborator and problem-solver — earning her colleagues’ trust and eventually serving as the president of the Senate. In doing so, she became the first woman and the first Asian American woman to serve as leader of either chamber of the Hawaii Legislature. 

“She was then elected to the U.S. Congress, where she fought for our communities to ensure Hawaii received critical federal support for jobs, schools, the environment and infrastructure.” 

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